Raising questions on raised panels

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    Craig Alderson

    I’m planning a simple raised panel door for a cabinet, and I’d like to avoid a loose panel. If the panel edge is flat, like a tenon, it will fit into the groove snugly and will move in and out without problem. No rattling. But flattening the edge is definitely more work and I’m not sure I could do a clean job of it.

    On the other hand, bevelling all the way down to the edge is easy, but when the fitted panel expands, it’s going to crush the corner where it’s seated in the groove. Then, when the panel contracts, it will be loose and rattle.

    Also, I don’t want the fuss that would seem to be required in making the panel that way. There’s only one point at which the bevel will contact the corner of the groove. Plane too much and the panel will rattle; too little, and the frame won’t close up. If I want the panel to fit snugly, I’ll have to plane precisely to that one point on each edge of the panel. This seems to require trying, disassembling, planing, reassembling, and trying, ad nauseam until it fits just right — a huge amount of fussing and work. And then it will stay snug only until the panel expands and crushes the groove corner.

    I could use the bottom of the groove as a registration point and plane the bevel so that it will be snug when it contacts the groove bottom. That would be fairly easy — but then there’s no room for panel expansion. There should be a gap at the edge, but allowing one takes us right back to the previous paragraph’s problem of finding that precise point at which the bevel is snug around all four sides.

    I’ve watched Paul’s tutorials on creating raised panels and have scoured other internet forums, but I don’t see these issues addressed. Your thoughts and recommendations? Thanks.

    Colin Scowen

    I would not worry too much about this if I was you. Any looseness that develops in the panel in the door will be barely noticeable, as the weight of the panel will push down on the floor of the groove and will resist movement. If you truly want to avoid any looseness, but still allow the panel to expand and contract, then a little glue, in the middle of the bottom edge of the panel would be one solution. Personally, I wouldn’t bother though. To fit the bevel to the groove, make a small gauge block with the same groove width and depth and use that to check the panel, rather than assembling the door each time. If you do make the panel too loose, then you can also wedge the back of the panel in the bottom rail with a few plane shavings once the glue is dry, trim them with a knife and they will be almost invisible. This will allow the panel to expand and contract still.

    Colin, Czech Rep.

    Craig Alderson

    Thanks, Colin, this is helpful. Yes, it’s easy enough to use a gauge block to fit the panel on one side, but my worry was about the side opposite. You could use a gauge block for that opposite side as well, but you can plane the bevel to sink the panel edge to any depth in that opposite groove. There’s only one point at which the panel will be snug for the rail length you have. If you don’t plane enough, the panel won’t sink as far into the groove, which means you can’t close up the frame joint. If you plane too much, the panel will sink further into the groove, but then it will be thinner than you need for that length of rail, and thus will be loose. You could sink the panel to the bottom of the groove on both sides, which would eliminate the guesswork, but then of course there’s no room for wood movement. It seems like the only way to hit that right spot is to assemble and disassemble the frame every time to test, and that’s a pain. Craig

    Harvey Kimsey

    You could try seating the panel with little foam rubber plugs to prevent rattling. I’ve seen these used when insulated glass panels are used. Hope this helps. Good luck!

    Jan Khmelnytsky

    I’ve done many raised panels of a range of sizes and haven’t found that too many assembly/disassembly steps are generally required. It ultimately comes down to the accuracy of your measurements and precision of your planning, but keep in mind that along each edge, you only need it to contact the sides of the groove in two places for it to be held in place (obviously, though, you should aim for full contact). Colin’s suggesting of wedging with a wood shaving on the back of the door is a good one, and can be done in a way that won’t be noticeable.
    As an alternative to glue, I’ve found that shellac can also work to hold panels in place and offset small amounts of movement.


    My first ever raised panel was done with Paul’s bench plane method in one of his in-person classes. The class was intense and things moved along…there was work to do and not much time to linger on things, so I made it as best I could and moved on. My point is that I didn’t have time to be perfect and simply tapered the panel until it would fit into the full length of the groove in the panel, testing with a cuttoff, if I recall correctly.

    This is all just a prelude to say that this panel is on my tool chest, which is now about 10 years old and has never shown any signs of becoming loose. The concerns you raise all make perfect sense theoretically, but in practice I don’t think the issue is as worrisome as it might seem. What is probably more important, if you plan to use stain or dye, is to remember to get stain or dye onto the panel before you glue up to avoid showing a white line if / when the panel contracts.

    Remember, you have many points of contact along each edge, wood has some elasticity, and the vertical dimension is not going to change, so you will always have the top and bottom of the panel snug and keeping the panel from rattling (as long as you don’t undercut them grossly).

    Craig Alderson

    Thanks everyone. I was coming around to this conclusion the more I pondered it. I suppose this is a good illustration of the difference between theory and actual experience.

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